Boilermakers, the unique nickname of the Purdue athletic teams, originally was meant as a term of derision and was among several terms applied to Purdue by Wabash College supporters following a lopsided (18-4) victory by Purdue in 1889.
Located just 30 miles from Lafayette and bitter athletic rivals of the day, students of the liberal arts school were inclined to shun the cultural background of Purdue players who represented a school devoted to the practical arts of engineering and agriculture.
Boilermakers struck the fancy of the Purdue players, who were also being called cornfield sailors, blacksmiths, pumpkin shuckers, hayseeds, farmers and rail splitters.
There also is an unsubstantiated story that Purdue, in the late 1880s, once enrolled eight boilermakers from the shops of the Monon Railroad during the football season.
A boilermaker is someone who makes or repairs boilers, a tank in which water is turned to steam for heating or power, as in a steam engine. Old Gold and Black
Members of Purdue's first football team in 1887 felt that the squad should be distinguished by certain colors, and since Princeton was at the time the most successful gridiron unit, its colors were considered. Though actually orange and black, the Princeton colors were known by many as yellow and black. Purdue gridders opted for old gold over yellow, kept the black, and began flying the colors which endure today.
One later story has it that the black represents mourning for tragedies costing the lives of Boilermaker gridders on two occasions.